Connacht 14 Scarlets 8
Connacht equalled last season’s winning tally when they overcame the Scarlets at the Sportsground to maintain the vital sixth place in the Guinness Pro 12.
With six wins from 22 fixtures last season, Pat Lam’s side has now equalled that record with nine games played, while also ensuring they have not lost at home this season. It was also their first win over the Scarlets since September 2011.
After a disastrous start, in which Connacht conceded eight points in the opening three minutes, the home turned around at the break to take control, leaving the visitors with the consolation of a bonus point.
Connacht did not help their cause in the opening half and within three minutes the visitors were eight points ahead . In handing the initiative to Scarlets after failing to control the start, Connacht were pinged for side entry in the maul and outhalf Steve Shingler had no trouble with the 22-metre penalty after two minutes. A minute later when outhalf Jack Carty failed to field a high ball, his counterpart latched onto the bounce before feeding right wing Harry Robinson who had a clear run in from the 22.
Connacht were given some reprieve when Shingler’s conversion hit off the post, while in the seventh minute the outhalf was wide with a penalty.
It took 10 minutes before Connacht were able to get their hands on the ball, but once again a poor lineout hindered their attacking intention, while the Scarlets, clearly under pressure in the scrum, were given maximum latitude by Welsh referee Leighton Hodges when Connacht would have expected to capitalise.
However, their first score came in the 20th minute when Carty kicked ahead from turnover ball on half-way, and with Mils Muliaina clearly obstructed as Scarlets fullback Steffan Evan failed to control, Hodges awarded a penalty which Carty kicked to open the scoring.
It stayed like that until the 47th minute when the Scarlets superiority at the breakdown was nullified by greater resistance from Connacht. A turnover provided Connacht with their first sustained attack which took them within five metres of the line before Quinn Roux was shunted into touch. From a resulting scrum, Connacht once again dislodged the Scarlets, winning a penalty which Carty drilled through the posts to reduce the arrears to 6-8.
Connacht's improved ferocity at the breakdown was immediately rewarded when, from turnover ball, Mick Kearney shipped quickly to centre David McSharry before left wing Healy kicked ahead from half-way, won the race, picked up and claimed the try to give Connacht an 11-8 lead after 48 minutes.
The home side, with the initiative, finally started to reap rewards from their dominance up front, and from a penalty to touch Muliaina came agonisingly close to scoring but was tackled shy of the line after the pack had driven forward. However, from the ensuing scrums, Connacht won a penalty and Carty extended the lead to 14 - 8.
Connacht were completely on top through the second half, and despite missing a drop goal attempt and long-range penalty, saw out the game with the pack winding down the clock with ball in hand.
CONNACHT: M Muliaina; D Poolman, B Aki, D McSharry, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You; Q Roux, A Browne; J Muldoon (cpt), E McKeon, G Naoupu.
Replacements: M Kearney for Browne, F Bealham for Ah You (44 mins), W Fallon for Naoupu (68 mins), D Leader for Muliaina, J Cooney for Marmion (both 73 mins).
SCARLETS: S Evans; H Robinson, M Tagicakibau, R King, K Phillips; S Shingler, A Davies; P John, K Myhill, P Edwards; G Earle, J Snyman; A Shingler, J Davies, J Barclay (capt).
Replacements: G Owen for King (47 mins), J Adriaanse for Edwards (50 mins), L Rawlins for Earle (68 mins), W Jones for John (78 mins).
Referee: Leighton Hodges (WFU).